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Massive refinery fire draws attention on west side

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Fire at Interstate 37 and Buddy Lawrence
Fire at I-37 and Buddy Lawrence
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Posted at 8:46 AM, Feb 17, 2020
and last updated 2020-02-17 21:40:37-05

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — A massive fire caused by a gas pipeline burned for about 90 minutes Monday morning in an area near Interstate 37 and Buddy Lawrence Drive, causing disruption in the surrounding areas.

Traffic on I-37 temporarily was closed until mid-morning. AEP reported a power outage at 8:38 a.m., affecting about 723 customers. CCISD Police Chief said Oak Park Elementary, Driscoll Middle School and Miller High School were told to shelter-in-place.

The Corpus Christi Fire Department worked in tandem with the Refinery Terminal Fire Company, putting out the fire -- which began at around 8:37 a.m. -- within couple of hours, and the Corpus Christi Police Department issued a shelter-in-place order for the nearby neighborhoods and residents.

"We were able to geo-code and hit all of the phones in that area and notify them that a shelter in place was being ordered for their protection," he said.

Chief Robert Rocha said emergency responders considered evacuating the area, but weather conditions were favorable, preventing the need to evacuate.

"We had people that were capable and ready in case we needed to do an evacuation," he said. "Fortunately the wind was blowing in a direction that was not going toward the general population."

The first fire started in a pipeline reportedly running to Marathon Petroleum's facility on what is known as "Refinery Row." The refinery released a statement acknowledging it was their line which caught fire.

"A pipeline that provides natural gas to the MPLX Javelina gas processing facility in Corpus Christi, Texas, experienced a operational incident that resulted in a fire," reads a statement from Marathon Petroleum's Jamal Kheiry. "MPLX isolated the affected segment of pipeline using shutoff valves, and local emergency responders extinguished the fire, which was in the vicinity of Buddy Lawrence Drive and Interstate 37. All necessary regulatory notifications have been made, and MPLX will coordinate closely with regulatory agencies to conduct an investigation to determine the cause of the incident."

It originally was believed the fire had started at a CITGO plant, but the refinery issued a statement of its own Monday afternoon reporting the fire had, indeed, begun outside the grounds of its east plant.

A second, smaller fire that was contained to a small building started at 9:30 a.m. The major fire was out by about 10 a.m.

There were no injuries as a result of the fire.

"This incident does not pose any threat to the surrounding community, our employees or contractors," the CITGO statement reads.

The city activated its Emergency Operations Center to coordinate relief efforts. It was closed by 10:30 a.m.

Crews that were on the scene included those from Corpus Christi Fire Department and the Refinery Terminal Fire Company.

Crews still are working to figure out what sparked the second fire.

Digital content producer Ana Tamez contributed to this story.